College president: Improved federal rules needed to cut costs, grow online education

Federal intimidation of regional accreditors has had a similar dampening effect on the creation of innovative, and cost saving, programs. Institutions attempting to reduce classroom time through adaptive learning methods, and thus instructional costs, run the risk of finding themselves at odds with the regulators.

This is especially true if federal financial aid should flow to students in classes that don’t meet the new federally mandated definition of what constitutes a credit hour. Rather than measure learning outcomes, the Department insists that hours of seat time is a more appropriate measure; another artifact of the last HEOA Reauthorization

It is hoped that those reviewing the Higher Education Act and considering future changes, will keep the cost of regulatory compliance in mind.

Too often, of late, it has seemed that sweeping new federal legislation is introduced because of the actions of a few bad actors. An example can be seen in the recent concern over unscrupulous acts by a handful of for-profit institutions and their misrepresentations to veterans and the military.

Not only did the president intervene with an executive order that creates as many questions as remedies, but five bills have now been introduced in Congress to deal with the same issue.

If implemented, these new rules will apply to all higher education institutions, with a resulting compliance cost, not just to the two or three malefactors.

Future regulation of higher education may be necessary, however, if we are serious about reducing the cost of college we need to not see every problem as a “nail” to be hit by the regulatory “hammer.”

In most cases the powers necessary to resolve genuine abuse already exist, at both the federal and state level.

John Ebersole is the president of Excelsior College, and online institution based in New York.

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